A spark. Planting a seed. A lightbulb moment. What exactly is innovation? Many companies claim to be innovating, but few think about how each employee can impact the creation of new products and service offerings. However, for some forward-thinking companies, what was once considered a function of the R&D department is now becoming intricately embedded into the entire organization.
West Monroe is one of those companies. Our approach to innovation is central to everything we do, with the understanding that it impacts the growth of the company and ultimately the satisfaction of both clients and employees. West Monroe introduced a formal innovation strategy in 2014 centered around developing world-class capabilities and have continued to refine our approach for encouraging employees to propose and develop new product and service ideas that create value.
I joined the company last year as senior director of innovation and partnerships and I’ve been continually impressed by my firm’s commitment to innovation and its willingness to enable ideation across the firm and fund the best ideas. Then again, this wasn’t surprising given that one of the core values the firm was founded on is “practical innovation.”
Practical innovation is not done for the sake of creating something new or cool, but instead as a way to attack the issues—either ours or our clients’—with new ideas or solutions that provide meaningful value.
How do we do it?
We focus on four key areas that are embedded into our organization:
Focusing on a deep understanding of the problem
Communicating frequently and broadly
Creating multi-disciplinary teams of experts to drive each innovation forward
Constantly evaluating progress against intent and objectives
One such practical innovation is a cloud-based database intended to capture the vast amounts of data we have collected over the years from doing more than 400 M&A projects. These data points were previously buried in PowerPoint decks and spreadsheets. But our employees knew that if we quickly and easily accessed the information in a dashboard, we could then use it to provide quantitative insights to our clients. While we had the capabilities in-house to develop the platform ourselves, the team weighed the ROI and decided to outsource the technical piece, saving money and allowing us to bring the product to market faster.
The drive for entrepreneurship is strong here. Our employees are owners, too, so the fact that they have a direct hand in the success of the firm means their hunger and passion for bringing ideas to the table is always evident. That’s why we have invested in mechanisms for supporting innovation that anyone at the firm can take advantage of.
With our ‘Shark Tank’ initiative, employees are rewarded for their creativity, courage, and bravery to suggest and implement new ideas.
They undertake the process in the same way that any entrepreneur looking for funding would: by developing a solid proposal and pitching their innovation idea to a group of senior executives referred to as the Concept Advisory Board.
The board offers feedback to the team that helps shape the idea and get it to market faster. We have noticed that employees come to us with similar ideas, and that’s when you really begin gaining momentum. We’re a client-centric firm, so when we see repeatable patterns, we know it’s a pain point that many of our clients are feeling and an issue we must solve faster.
The projects aren’t small fry, either. One project, the nCino Center of Excellence, which revamped the way the company implements a bank operating system called nCino, has brought in $10 million in revenue over the last three years.
More than $5 million of funding has been allocated to date across 15 different teams, and all that hard work certainly hasn’t gone to waste.
It’s a move that has resulted in an ROI of more than 200% across the entire innovation portfolio. We allocate up to 1% of the firm's annual revenue to innovation, meaning employees really have a chance to shape the direction of the company by working on large-scale, impactful initiatives.
The benefits for employees are vast. Imagine being able to directly show the value of your creativity— from one innovative idea right through to execution. With our innovation programs, it’s easy for employees to feel the tangible impact of their ideas while building skills for the future.
We’re continuing to push the envelope for the future of West Monroe’s innovation arm. Earlier this year we launched the West Monroe Idea Hub, enabling crowdsourced concepts, allowing people to propose new ideas, give feedback, and vote on others.
We’re also running ideation workshops to assess 12 different innovation themes like the integration of Digital and AI. This helps our employees understand and scale their innovative idea alongside the core principles shaping the consulting world today and the issues facing our clients.
We’ve also established an Innovation Fellow career path at West Monroe in response to both market demand and employee feedback. The Innovation Fellow career path provides promotion opportunities for senior technologists who want to focus on creating tangible, market-facing products and services. Since we launched this career path last year, two employees have been promoted to the Innovation Fellow role and others are under consideration.
For those who want to work hands-on with technology while continuing to grow in their career, West Monroe has a clearly defined path to do so. This is an exciting development both for our people and the firm as a whole, and one that will only help our innovation capabilities continue to expand.